What I Do About Medical Expenses

I’m going to reuse this picture because I can’t think of a better way to caption “What I Do About Medical Expenses.”

Happy Tuesday, folks! I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day. As for me, I made a point of NOT laboring and instead, I enjoyed some relaxation time. I’ve been going very hard lately so I was due for some. Anyway, today I’m going to talk about medical expenses. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $900 in this category. Keep in mind that I don’t include health insurance in this number since I already accounted for it in my insurance category. Most of the spending that brought that average up was in 2018 when I spent months in physical therapy working through a herniated disc in my back. I’m very lucky to have good insurance, but that $50 copay per appointment still added up over time. I also sprained my ankle, making it a very unlucky health year for me. I’ve decided to write this particular post in list form for a change of pace. So here are my tips for saving on medical expenses, in no particular order (although the first one is definitely the most important and you can probably already guess what it is).

  • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

There is no better way to save on medical expenses than to avoid getting sick. This means investing time, effort, and occasionally money consistently. There is a reason this is one of the first posts I wrote on this blog. In a good year, I spend little or nothing in this potentially very dangerous category. And that is no accident.

  • Understand how your insurance and the medical billing system works and mitigate things as much as possible.

Learn about how deductibles, copays, out of pocket max, etc operate and pay attention to them. Occasionally you can do yourself a favor here. For example, if you need something done and the timing is flexible, you haven’t met your deductible yet this year, and you’re close to the end of the year, wait until next year. That way, you’re giving yourself a better chance to meet next year’s deductible rather than simply throwing the spending away on this year’s, which you won’t meet anyway.

Make sure you know something is covered BEFORE you get the service done. As a young lad of nineteen, I had my wisdom teeth removed, foolishly assuming my insurance would cover it. Later, when a bill for a few thousand dollars showed up, I ultimately learned that it did not – at least not in the particular way I had it done. I don’t remember the details now. But as a kid that age, that was a tough financial hit. More on that later.

Also, understand that medical billing is a very inexact science and that it’s done by humans, who do make mistakes. Pay attention to what’s on your bill and if something doesn’t look right, call and find out what’s going on. You will definitely encounter some of the “it’s them, not us” game between doctor’s offices and your health insurer, but every now and again, you can get something resolved and avoid paying for something you shouldn’t have to. Plus, in the process, you will gain a valuable understanding of a system that intimidates a ton of people.

  • Use your life experience to your advantage and apply what I call the 1-2 week rule.

Back in the days when insurance that covered basically everything was commonplace, I would go to the doctor for basically anything that came up – a minor rash, a cold that lasted a little longer than usual, a strange pain in my knee, etc. But somewhere along the line, I noticed a pattern. More often than not, the outcome seemed to be “give it a week or two and come back if it hasn’t improved.” And those doctors usually knew what they were doing since in most cases, no return visit was necessary. Fast forward to today, when many people have to pay at least $25 for an office visit and some have to pay the entire cost, and my approach has evolved. As long as something doesn’t seem serious (I use a combination of feel, past experience, and Dr Google to make that determination), I just self impose that week or two. Whatever the issue is, it almost always goes away – no copay necessary.

  • If you don’t have insurance, there are work arounds.

Most service providers have a cash price, and if you don’t have insurance, you should ask for it. From what I’ve heard, there is some leeway, especially if you’re going to pay up front. And here is a gem on the prescription side: www.goodrx.com. If you’re not familiar with it, give it a try and thank me later. I have no clue how it works, but somehow it does. I’ve even successfully used it when I had minimalist insurance through a very cheap employer that had a deductible on prescription coverage. One other thing. Remember my wisdom teeth mishap from earlier? I didn’t have a few thousand bucks laying around back then. But the doctor’s office was happy to set up a payment plan for me and six painful months later, the lesson had been paid for in full. They didn’t even charge interest, which I thought was very decent of them. From what I’ve heard, this willingness to set up no cost payment plans is common practice.

  • As usual, Costco can help.

If you haven’t heard, Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand is both awesome and incredibly cheap. Since moving to Texas, I suddenly have allergy issues in the spring and the fall. It’s just one of those things. But their nasal spray works wonders for me – and costs about the same for five bottles (enough to get me through probably a decade or so) as the name brand does for one. And this is just one of many, many examples. I would go so far as to say that area of the store is the most underrated of all. Oh. And with most regular household stuff like ibuprofen or that allergy medication I just mentioned, you can pretty much ignore the expiration dates. Sure, the effectiveness may go down slightly over time, but not to a noticeable degree in my experience. I have an entire bathroom closet full of expired stuff that always gets the job done when needed.

There is only one magic bullet with medical expenses: prevention. And it isn’t actually magic; it requires work and discipline. Beyond that, anything else is going to cost money. But there are ways to keep things from getting out of hand. Hopefully there is an idea or two in this post that will help you. I hope your short week is off to a great start and I’ll be back with my regularly scheduled Wednesday post tomorrow.

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